Classroom Teaching vs. Real Settings

Although it would be preferable that life skills be learnt in a ‘real setting’ such as a shop, the cinema or on board the bus or train, this could prove quite overwhelming for the child or young person with autism due to confusing stimuli.

They may prefer to master a skill in a ‘safe’ environment before generalising into a ‘real’ setting. Duncan and Bishop (2015) consider the school environment as the ideal setting for teaching independent living skills as they can be incorporated as goals in the child or young person’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). It is important that the child/ young person has opportunities to practice newly acquired skills in less structured environments for example: the child may explore a grocery shop using an app or virtual environment; they could then progress to practicing the skills of selecting items to buy and going to the till and paying for their shopping in the school play area using ‘real’ props such as money, food items and shopping baskets. After teaching the necessary skills in the classroom setting, the child or young person could be set a homework task of making a purchase in their local shop. These skills can then be generalised into the local shop where the child could practice purchasing a snack and eventually move on to other types of shops or cafes.

Although it may be daunting for individuals with autism to learn such skills, in the real setting it is very important to persevere as for many it is very difficult to generalise the skills which have been taught in the classroom to the real environment. They may find the differences between the ‘safe’ classroom and the shop for example, the noises, smells, size and crowds of people overwhelming. It may also be difficult to calculate the price of items in the shop although they are adept at mental maths problem solving within the classroom setting. When given the opportunity and support to order food in a restaurant, pay for a cinema ticket or purchase a toy they will be more capable of participating in the real world.

Another method of teaching is explored by Saiano et al., (2015) who carried out a study to discover whether a virtual environment (displayed using a video projector onto a screen and the participants body movement was captured using a Microsoft Kinect rather than a mouse or keyboard) was helpful in teaching safety skills and pedestrian skills such as crossing the road with and without traffic lights and how to follow road signs. During the forty-five minute sessions those participating were required to follow two paths using arrows and signs and were observed to see if they adhered to the traffic lights, stayed on the foot path, looked prior to crossing and were aware of cars nearby. The participants and their care givers were required to complete a questionnaire prior to involvement in the study and afterwards to assess whether they were able to transfer the skills learnt into the real environment. An improvement was noticed in their performance in the real environment. Repeated practice in a structured, virtual environment was thought to be very beneficial for those with autism.

Further reading